Over the past several years we’ve made intentional efforts to broadcast a quality live stream experience of our services. This raises an interesting question. Is it ok for me to just “attend” online every Sunday?
A Helpful Distinction
In seeking to answer this question, I find Ed Stetzer’s distinction between “an online church” and “a church online” and to be helpful. An online church is a church that has the intention of creating a community that does not gather together at a specific location. By way of contrast, a church online recognizes the obstacles people encounter in a given week to gather together, but does not lose sight of the ideal of being a gathered people. At Constance we would describe ourselves as a church online. We are pursuing the value of our relational connectedness to one another as a gathered people, but try to provide a way to connect in times of being unable to attend on campus. The church online “will be there when you can’t be here.”
The Call to be a Gathered Community
Several reasons I believe the church is called to be a gathered community come from Scripture’s teaching around two central truths. First, as the “body of Christ” there is a calling upon all believers to actively engage in the “building up of the body.” (Ephesians 4:9-16, Romans 12:3-13) We are called to live out the “one another’s” of Scripture in the context of relationship and accountability. In fact, apart from relationship with other believers, it is impossible to bear one another’s burdens, speak words that bring grace and serve in the ministries of the church that are critical to achieving the vision God has placed before us, “To be a community, compelled by Christ’s love to bless our world.”
Second, the two observances that God has called us to practice have their meaning deeply rooted in community. The Lord’s Table and Baptism. As Paul gave instructions on remembering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ by sharing the Lord’s Table as community, he gives us a calling to not neglect the needs of one another in our midst. In other words, there are both horizontal and vertical dimensions in our response of gratitude to Christ’s work.
Water baptism is an outward expression of the redemptive work that takes place in the life of a follower of Christ at the moment of believing the gospel message. At the center of the redemptive work is having a new identity that is formed by both being placed into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as well as being placed into the Body of Christ, the family of God. (Romans 6:1-7, 7:4-6)
The Reality of Our Lives
On any given Sunday, we have between 110 and 150 households experiencing our services via the live stream. I hear stories of how this has been a blessing to many who have been unable to join us on campus. Some are traveling, some have sick kids, some are shut-in, and others have a hard time navigating the elements (Our online viewing does increase significantly in January). The list goes on…… This is the reality of our lives and we are blessed to not feel totally disconnected during these times. We deeply value staying connected as a church and believe that the online experience can help us to have a sense of connection when we are unable to attend.
Recently, I was in Panama to help with the start-up of a GlobalFinger Prints program. As I sat in the Miami airport, I was able to “join” the Constance family via the live stream. It was a blessing that served to create a thirst to be worshipping and connecting with my church family as a gathered community. There is a strengthening of faith that I experience in the community of believers. This comes both in the ways I am able to encourage and build others up and in the ways in which I am encouraged from others. May we continue to grow in our desires to gather as the church. (Hebrews 10: 23-25)
Is an online church really a church? The Exchange: A blog by Ed Stetzer, April 2, 2014.